Gaspari's state title comes as offensive coordinator
DeKALB – Mike Gaspari munched on a postgame snack Saturday night from a relatively familiar perch.
Seated just behind the driver's seat of the Batavia football team's charter bus, he again observed the action from higher ground.
As Bulldogs players reveled on their way toward the bus and up the stairs, Gaspari grinned in kind. He had just directed many of them from the press box as the offensive coordinator during Batavia's first state championship season, his third year enjoying the so-called penthouse view after a lengthy run as head coach.
"When I look back on some of the dark years back in the [1980s] and how tough it was to get things going, get people believing, it wasn't just kids," Gaspari said. "You had to get adults believing. To be at this point is very, very special from where I sit."
Gaspari went 135-122 in 26 seasons as Batavia head coach. He qualified for the playoffs 14 times in his final 20 seasons following a 12-42 run from 1985 to 1990.
He retired after the 2010 season, stepping down from his athletic director post the following spring.
At the time, Gaspari often reiterated that it simply was time for him to cede control of the program to longtime assistant Dennis Piron, a close friend who graduated just before Gaspari's first season as head coach. Both men also are North Central College products and godfathers to the other's sons.
Those ties made extending Gaspari an offer to remain on staff a no-brainer for Piron.
"It's father-son, brothers. Whatever you want to call it," Piron said. "These guys know what the relationship is like. He's a great man. He's a legend. And to have him now up in the press box helping us, calling our offense, it's literally unfair to other teams that we play."
Batavia outscored opponents 594-200 this season, winning four of its five playoff games by at least 20 points.
Since his retirement, players routinely have called Gaspari a "guru" or "mad scientist," finding his new schedule allowed him additional time to pore over film and game plans, prompting even more meticulous insight and analysis.
"For how much work he puts in, it definitely pays off for us," senior running back Anthony Scaccia said. "He makes it easy for us. He's up there working hard and it definitely helps us out."
The tutelage always comes in polite, constructive tones.
"He's not like Piron with the screaming, but he gives us advice at the right moments," senior wide receiver/defensive back Rourke Mullins said, "and it's always good."
Gaspari compares his current role to his head coaching days. While he provided input to defensive and special teams coaches then, his primary duties still involved overseeing the offense and play calling.
Batavia finished as Class 6A runners-up in 2006 and was a 6A semifinalist in 2011, Gaspari's first season as offensive coordinator.
"We've had so many special groups that just haven't quite achieved this, so this is kind of for a lot of teams that came before them – and I think these kids realize that," Gaspari said. "We try to emphasize history at times with the program, and I think they appreciate that, but it's just a fantastic group of kids who've worked extremely hard. And I'm just fortunate enough to get to coach them."
Take away what Gaspari called "70- to 80-hour weeks" as Batavia's AD, and naturally, he'll have a clearer head. During retirement, he enjoys working out and golfs once or twice a week when the weather allows.
Gaspari casually remarks about the favorable senior rates at Fox Valley golf courses, a segue of sorts into his future beyond football.
"For me, it's just a matter of being selfish that I continue to do it," Gaspari said. "I keep telling [Piron] it's about time for me to wrap it up because you've got younger guys that aren't going to get what I'm doing until I step away."
Gaspari admits an end date to his coaching career "has to" be part of his thought process, but did not suggest that time is imminent.
From where he's sitting, this euphoria could last awhile.